From Researcher to Activist

As mentioned in my blog post Tales That Sting, I was looking forward to reading Dave Goulson's book "A Sting in the Tale". Now I've done that and the book was as wonderful as its cover was beautiful! An excellent mix of facts, stories, self-distance and English humour. I've recommended it to all my friends and colleagues and also bought the sequel: A Buzz in the Meadow. Also a delight! And so thought Nicolas Lezard at the Guardian too.

For an innovation advisor in academia, as I am, it is also a very pedagogical story Goulson tells. Starting out as a PhD student just wanting to know more about insects (and to finish his thesis within the stipulated project timeframe) he describes how his research made him more and more aware of the fragility of the eco-system and how he started to take action.
From Peter Korn's Garden 2015
In addition to publishing more than 200 scientific articles on insects, he started the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006. He has also bought a farm in France in order to create a haven for insects and wild flowers, and to be able to do the kind of longitudinal studies no funding agency is willing to support. Although it took a while to convince a publisher, his books are now really popular and have been translated to several languages (even Swedish, although we must be a very small market, demonstrating the power of The Long Tail). It would be very interesting to know if all this utilisation work also has paid off in terms of more research funding, attracting students and partners, and formulating better research questions.

However, what impressed me most was the way Goulson and his colleagues took on the fight against Big Business such as Bayer regarding the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. Without funding, they managed to do a study demonstrating the devastating effects this widely distributed (in more than one sense) insecticide has on bumblebees AND get an article published in Science. This in turn eventually led to a two-year EU suspension on three of the poisons. Apparently, it has now been demonstrated that bird populations are affected too, with starlings, tree sparrows and swallows among the ones most declining.

A researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences contributed to a study made by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) further demonstrating the harm done by these pesticides to bees. Instead, another method is recommended: Integrated Pest Management. This means that you combine mechanical, biological and chemical methods in order to protect plants from insects, weed, and fungi.

The countries that voted against the ban were: the UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal. Ireland, Lithuania, Finland and Greece abstained. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden (thanks!) voted in favour.

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